Leeds Knights’ Steve Nell and Dave Whistle backed to deliver success by Cardiff Devils boss Todd Kelman

TODD KELMAN believes Steve Nell and Dave Whistle are the perfect combination to make Leeds Knights a success story.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 6:25 am
Updated Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 8:12 am
SUCCESS STORY: Dave Whistle, left, pictured talking to defenceman Todd Kelman at the Odyssey Arena in the 2001-02 Superleague campaign, which saw Belfast Giants win the regular season title. Picture: Michael Cooper/Getty Images.

Nell took over the team last month and last week appointed the experienced Whistle to the dual role of head coach and general manager.

Kelman, managing director of the Elite League’s Cardiff Devils, knows the attributes of both men well, having played under Whistle when he brought Superleague success to both Bracknell Bees and Belfast Giants, while developing a friendship with Nell over the years through the latter’s ownership of Swindon Wildcats.

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Dave Whistle, pictured on the Cardiff Devils bench in the 2013-14 season. Picture courtesy of Richard Murray.

Whistle moved to the newly-launched Belfast in the summer of 2000 having just delivered the Superleague title to Bracknell, taking Kelman and other players with him.

Kelman watched as the 55-year-old Canadian became the face of the franchise on and off the ice, delivering a Superleague title by 2002 and a playoff title 12 months later.

His success saw him head to Germany’s DEL before he returned to the UK to take the helm at Cardiff, a brief spell at Sheffield Steelers following before he returned to Canada.

He has spent the past six years coaching at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in British Columbia and Kelman believes his former boss has all the qualities required to succeed with Leeds.

PRIMED FOR SUCCESS: Leeds Knights' team owner, Steve Nell, who has run a successful operation in swindon Wildcaats sincec 2004. Picture: Steve Riding.

“Dave’s the perfect fit for Leeds,” said Kelman. “It’s a similar situation to Belfast, at a different level with different issues but he can draw on that experience of building something from scratch.

“He obviously knows about the business side of running a team, in Belfast he was basically the face of the franchise. The fans in Leeds will love him.

“He’s a great recruiter, he knows how to get the most out of players and he has developed over the years as a coach.

“And Steve taking over the franchise up there is a really cool thing. I don’t think it will take long for them to become a powerhouse in that league - Steve is one of the more successful owners at that level, he knows what he is doing.

Todd Kelman, pictured celebrating Cardiff Devils' 2016-17 Elite League troumph. Picture courtesy of Scott Wiggins/EIHL.

MORE – Steve Nell explains why Dave Whistle is the right man for Leeds top job

“Leeds offers a whole lot of opportunity that maybe Swindon doesn’t. It’s a bigger place, there are maybe more businesses that want to get involved - it should be a pretty fun project.”

SWEET TASTE OF SUCCESS: Todd Kelman celebrates with the Monteith Bowl trophy celebrating Belfast Giants winning the 2001-2002 Superleague Championship. Picture: Michael Cooper/Getty Images.

Kelman believes Nell has shown a clear commitment to the Knights by bringing in someone of Whistle’s calibre.

“The cheap option would be to get a young player-coach in to do a bit of everything,” added Kelman. “But Steve has taken the approach that they need somebody at the helm all the time.

“He sees the value in having a bench coach but also someone who can help on the business side and Dave is a perfect fit for that because he’ll be there day in, day out running the organisation.

“Dave is just a great person, people love being around him, people love talking hockey with him. After games he’ll go up and meet the sponsors and fans and have them laughing or listening to his stories for hours - people just gravitate towards him in that way.

“Dave has shown he can adapt his coaching, too. He came from an era where it was old-school coaching, with a lot of screaming and yelling and he has become more focussed on video and developed different ways of feeding back to players, - some coaches find that difficult.

“He has worked at every level, whether that be top pro leagues, or in development with young kids so he can get the most out of all kinds of players.

“He’ll step right back into it easily and it will be a comfortable spot behind that bench in Leeds. I know he’ll be happy to be back in a head coaching role in the UK - that’s the place that he has had the most success and the most passion for the game - it is a really smart move.”

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